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Free software project undaunted despite Apple threats

By , IDG News Service
May 03, 2004 01:46 PM ET

IDG News Service - The PlayFair free software project is likely to come online again soon, despite efforts by Apple Computer to close it down.

Apple last month shut down last the free software project, which lets tool users play music from the Apple iTunes Music Store on hardware not authorized by Apple, such as GNU/Linux PC, provided an authorized key is available.

Sarovar a free software development community site based in Thiruvanthapuram, India, said it would stop hosting the PlayFair project after site sponsors received a legal notice from Apple's attorneys alleging infringement of copyright. Apple sources were not available for comment.

After Sarovar decided to stop hosting PlayFair on its site, Anand Babu, a free software proponent, took over as the project's maintainer. "PlayFair project will soon come online," Babu said. " We are working on a better version, and we are hosting it outside the U.S." A number of groups have come forward to host and mirror PlayFair across the Internet, said Babu, who lives in Tamil Nadu, India.

The iTunes jukebox software is currently available on Mac OS and Windows. Music that is bought and downloaded can be played on any number of Apple iPod music players, and a mix of up to five Windows PCs and Macintosh computers. Apple, which is based in Cupertino, Calif., uses the Advanced Audio Coding (AAC) format in combination with digital rights management technology to protect the music bought from its iTunes Music Store.

PlayFair has fallen foul of Apple ever since it was first hosted by its author, who prefers to be anonymous, at SourceForge.net, an open-source software development Web site in the U.S. owned by Open Source Development Network Inc. (OSDN). In early April, Apple invoked the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and asked SourceForge.net to take down the project.

As the DMCA has an anti-circumvision provision that could work against continuation of the project in the U.S., PlayFair was moved to Sarovar at the request of the author, according to Rajkumar Sukumaran, one of the maintainers of the Sarovar site.

Since India does not have a law similar to DMCA, Sarovar approved the project as it is legal in India, Rajkumar said. As PlayFair is a general public license (GPL), free software project, Sarovar could not find any reason for not approving PlayFair's request for hosting, he added.

Despite the decision to remove the project from the Sarovar site, free software proponents are defiant. "What is really happening is that a corporation is using legal means to shut down a free software project in India for the first time, and the small project is left defenseless even though they believe that they are right," Rajkumar said.

The decision to stop hosting PlayFair on Sarovar was not taken because the site believes it has infringed Apple's copyrights, but because it did not want to drag the purely voluntary sponsors of the site into a legal battle with Apple, Rajkumar said.

PlayFair is a tool to enable fair use for music purchased from Apple's iTunes music service, Rajkumar said. It does that by stripping the DRM mechanism from a song, provided the key for playing the song is available. PlayFair is licensed under the GNU GPL.

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